April 25, 2014 by KWills

The letter VAnother ancient Italian form, using two refrains and only two rhymes throughout the six verses. The first five verses are tercets, and the final verse is a quatrain. The first and last lines of the first verse form the refrains that are repeated alternately as the last lines in the second, third, fourth and fifth verses. The final verse ends with both refrains, in their original order.

OK, that’s a bulky and awkward explanation for what is actually quite a simple form:
A1, b, A2 / a, b, A1 / a, b, A2 / a, b, A1 / a, b, A2 / a, b, A1, A2
(Where A1 and A2 are the refrains.)

The challenge of a villanelle is to choose refrain lines that will stand up to the dense repetition. The refrains account for eight of the nineteen lines, so they need to sound good and not get “worn out” too soon. Be careful, also, when choosing your a and b rhymes; you need six distinct ‘b’ rhymes, and seven ‘a’ rhymes in total (including the refrains). It’s not quite as bad as the ballade, but it’s close.

There is no restriction on the length or meter of the lines, although they should be well balanced. Traditionally, villanelles are written in iambic meter, as in (probably) the most famous example of a villanelle: Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Goodnight”. However, this is not a rule of the form.

See also:

Like the Crow

Patient like the crafty crow
Though you feel you’ve been defeated
Don’t give up, results will show

When life throws you to and fro
Don’t be rash, keep temper seated
Patient, like the crafty crow

From mistakes, successes grow
If your will is not depleted.
Don’t give up, results will show

Try, and fail, and learn, and know
Even slow paths are completed,
Patient, like the crafty crow

Failure is a heavy blow
Next to never warmly greeted;
Don’t give up, results will show

Step by step and row by row,
Honest effort, not conceited,
Patient, like the crafty crow
Don’t give up, results will show


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